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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 24, 2008

Environmental liability delays rail trail deal

By Zach Simeone

VOORHEESVILLE — Who would be responsible if environmental clean-up were needed on the old Delaware & Hudson railroad" The United States and Canada disagree on the matter.

The difference has stalled negotiations that would allow nine miles of the old railway, running from Voorheesville to the Port of Albany, to be converted to a recreational trail.

Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway said at Tuesday night’s village board meeting that he hopes for a resolution in the near future. However, he said, "There’s a tremendous liability concern that they’re dealing with."

Negotiations with Canadian Pacific Railway, which have been underway for more than a decade, have been derailed several times.

In Canada, environmental liability falls on the buyer of a railroad; in the United States, it falls on the seller, according to Martin Daley, project director for Parks & Trails New York.

Albany County and Scenic Hudson are not interested in addressing any environmental hazards of the purchase, he said last week. His organization has been a sideline advocate for the rail trail project, helping out with funding and promotion.

"Acquisition of a railroad is a very delicate procedure. Their primary focus is to sell the line and get as much money as possible for it," he said of CP Rail. "One thing that’s difficult is getting that amount of money and getting into negotiations with the owners."

There have been staff changes on both sides of the table since negotiations started, and where there may have been progress made with previous members of staff, "they’ve run into some roadblocks," Daley explained. "The latest major sticking point is the environmental liability issue."

If Albany County purchases the property, the rail trail will act as a junction between other trails, parks, and municipalities including Voorheesville, Bethlehem, and the City of Albany.

Scenic Hudson, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1963, has been working together with Albany County to buy the land from Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1995, the county received $350,000 from the New York State Land and Water Conservation Fund; Scenic Hudson matched that grant.

"It has great potential to become a vital recreational attraction, serving the entire Capital Region," said Seth McKee, land-conservation director for Scenic Hudson. "Rail trails are a fantastic way to create opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors, for children to ride bicycles in a safe environment, and for promoting ‘green’ transportation," he said last week.

"I just want to echo that this is a great project that will link a lot of communities," Daley told The Enterprise last week. "And with issues now like rising gas prices and childhood obesity, projects like this are a great help."

McKee and Daley hope that negotiations will be closed by the year’s end.

Other business

In other business, the village board:

— Offered its condolences to the families of Ray O’Malley and Larry Phinney;

— Discussed setting up a meeting with Dutch Valley General Contracting for completing renovations of the firehouse; and

— Voted unanimously to schedule a workshop meeting for Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Ten Eyck writing a new chapter, leaves family’s farm

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — After nearly a century of Ten Eycks farming Indian Ladder, it looks like Peter Ten Eyck II will be the last.

His daughter, Laura Ten Eyck, closed out her last season as general manager of Indian Ladder Farms this month; she’ll pursue her career as a writer.

"I’m leaving because we have financial problems and I’m not able to solve them," said Laura Ten Eyck this week. "It’s not fair to my father."

While her father, who will turn 70 in August, owns the farm and runs the agricultural side of the business, Laura Ten Eyck, 45, was in charge of the retail end.

Asked if he would sell the business, Ten Eyck said, "We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re going to pull our wings in and try to move forward." He said any decisions will be made jointly by his son, Peter, who has also worked on the farm; Laura; and himself.

The employees met with Peter Ten Eyck on Tuesday to discuss running a scaled-down version of the market on their own.

"My co-workers are very, very responsible people," said Laura Ten Eyck, who was not at the meeting. "I have total confidence in them to do a good job."

"Laurie’s done such a wonderful job," said Peter Ten Eyck yesterday. "She’s a very creative person, a thoughtful person, and a principled person. You don’t find that often...This is a big stumbling block," he said of her leaving.

He went on, "Four employees came to me and said, ‘We’ll go ahead. We love working here.’...They convinced me yesterday to re-group with a smaller operation."

The farm, primarily made up of apple orchards, runs along the base of the Helderberg escarpment on both sides of the Altamont-Voorheesville Road for nearly a mile. It has become a mecca for the Capital Region, where city dwellers and suburbanites can connect with the country.

In recent years, the farm has offered a store with local produce and crafts, a restaurant and bake shop, a petting zoo and animal displays, and it has hosted events from birthday parties to weddings.

Peter Ten Eyck told The Enterprise several years ago that he wants to "re-couple" visitors with agriculture. People have become too removed from their food and where it comes from, said Ten Eyck; they don’t understand that food production is a process farmers go through. The Ten Eycks estimated they attract 400,000 visitors a year.

Peter Ten Eyck said he looked at farming as "a partnership between me and the consumer."

The bulk of the farm — just over 300 acres — cannot be developed; it must remain available for agricultural use. The Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy holds the easement along with the Open Space Institute. The development rights were purchased in 2003 for $844,000; about three-quarters of that came from the state and the rest was raised locally.

"I wouldn’t leave if the land wasn’t protected," said Laura Ten Eyck.

People eat for recreation

"It looks like a huge, successful business for five weekends in the fall," said Peter Ten Eyck, but the rest of the year takes a toll. "We’ve done a lot of things, like returning development rights, that were not in our best interest," he said.

In recent years, he has expanded the variety of apples he grows to 40 and is trying to get higher yields over the least acreage, he said. "And, we’ve expanded into more kinds of crops — we have apples, pears, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries."

The farm has also invested in a "high tunnel," he said, covered with plastic, which extends the growing season and requires less use of fungicide since the plants beneath the plastic are not getting as wet.

"I’m spread a little thin," said Ten Eyck.

Part of the hardship, he said, comes from being forced out of the wholesale market. "I can’t sell to Wal-mart or Hannaford," he said. "I’m not competitive. The big stores have their choice."

While New York State produces the same 25 million bushels of apples it did a decade ago, China’s yield has skyrocketed from 75 million to 1.1 billion.

So, what Indian Ladder has specialized in is direct sales. "You’ll get the best price and the best product," he said of customers who buy their apples at the farm. "Even the biggest box store in the world can’t compete with that."

Families have come back to Indian Ladder Farms for generations. Peter Ten Eyck said about a quarter of the parents touring the farm with their kids on school trips visited when they were kids themselves.

The current plan, to be developed with Peter Ten Eyck by the four employees, who he declined to name, is to keep the farm store, selling produce grown at Indian Ladder. "We tried a wider reach last year," he said of selling produce from other local farms; that will be cut back.

The café will remain, too. "But," said Ten Eyck, "we’re going to try to have a more basic menu of what people like most, like the turkey apple sandwich." He concluded, "We can’t be all things to all people."

Deciding what to do about the animals in the petting zoo "is a tough one," said Ten Eyck. "It’s very expensive. There’s no revenue there," he said, "but people enjoy it."

Asked what he thought Indian Ladder Farms would be like 20 years from now, Ten Eyck said his perspective is shaped by the fact that, in all of his 70 years, there was only one — 1962 — when he wasn’t living or working on the farm at least part of the year. That was when he served in the Army after graduating from the Ag School at Cornell.

"It took me a while to learn, everything is in flow," Peter Ten Eyck said. "The same family has worked the farm for 93 years. That may no longer be. Even with the same family, we’ve changed so much...At one time, we sold 1,000 half-bushels of Bartlett pears." People bought the little pears for home canning.

"Of course, people don’t do that anymore. It took a lot for Laurie to get me to understand this: People don’t eat to sustain themselves anymore. They eat for recreation. You have to be in the recreation business if you want to sell food."

Laura’s life on the farm

Laura Ten Eyck grew up on the farm in a house on Tygert Road where her father lives now. She lives in another house on the farm, with her husband, photographer Dietrich Gehring, and their 11-year-old son, Wolfgang. They will continue to live there, she said.

Asked about her relationship to the farm, she said, "It’s like your body — you don’t even think about it until there’s a problem. Then there’s nothing more important than taking care of it."

Her philosophy about the land is: "Nobody really owns the land. You’re just responsible for it."

She went on, "I’m proud of our family having done well by this land. There’s so much diversity and wildlife...When you see a farm going to a housing development, it’s one of the most frightful things — or worse, a strip mall."

Her great-grandfather, Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck, founded the farm in 1915, putting together several adjacent family farms and naming it Indian Ladder after the trail in the Helderbergs.

He was a Congressman and a commissioner of agriculture for New York State, and also ran for governor, said Laura Ten Eyck. Indian Ladder was a dairy farm with orchards first and then, in the last half of the 20th Century beef cattle were raised there, and then it became primarily an apple and pear farm.

She started working at the farm as a kindergartner, lining the apple baskets and "stacking them high," said Ten Eyck. "I learned how to run the register when I was 10, under trench warfare conditions," she said, recalling how, before the computer age, she had to calculate change in her head — under her father’s watchful eye as long lines of customers waited.

By the time she was 13, she had progressed to handing out cider doughnuts behind the baking counter.

After high school, she recalled, "I’d come home from college," she said, "and work in the pick-your-own."

After graduating from Emerson College in Boston, where she majored in creative writing, with a minor in journalism, Ten Eyck worked for Animal Magazine and she later wrote for The Altamont Enterprise, covering the Hilltowns. Twelve years ago, she began full-time work at Indian Ladder Farms. She ran the retail side of the business.

"Fighting the same fight"

"The retail part made money," she said this week. "But I’m not a business person. We could have done a lot better...

"We do 50 percent of our business in eight weeks," she said, referring to September and October — the harvest season. "The retail store doesn’t make money until September."

She also said, "Labor costs are very high...You had to maintain a basic infrastructure of staff to handle the tsunami in the fall...

"I tried to have special events and activities to bring people to the store...We wanted to achieve business and social goals at the same time."

She created a popular petting zoo and Baby Animal Days at the farm. "I felt like there was no place for kids to go see animals anymore," said Laura Ten Eyck.

Referring to Guilderland’s first fast-food restaurant, Carroll’s on Route 20, Ten Eyck reminisced, "When we were little and went to Carroll’s, my father would take us to look at the pigs at Vojnar’s farm while we drank our milkshakes...Where can kids go now to see animals""

She recalled kids from Albany on a field trip to Indian Ladder Farms. "They thought the brown sheep were bears. They were so detached; they didn’t see the difference between a predator and prey," she said.

"I wanted animals of each basic type so kids could see and touch and feed them," she said. "Out of that came the livestock displays and Baby Animal Days."

She also started the Barn School where kids came to the farm over vacation and learned about animals as they cared for them.

One morning camp session designed around the farms’ 12 rabbits was so popular that a second session was added in the afternoon. Ten Eyck recalled with a chuckle how each rabbit was supposed to belong to a camper who named it so, in between sessions, she’d take down one set of names from the rabbit cages and put up the other to keep the campers’ illusion of rabbit ownership complete.

The kids brushed their rabbits religiously and even painted their toenails. "It was like a spa for rabbits," said Ten Eyck.

They put harnesses on their rabbits, hooked them up to leashes, and walked them inside the fenced tennis court.

Ten Eyck collaborated with Anne Kelly to come up with a lot of the projects, including one on pollination. Kelly became a beekeeper.

Kelly was also the buyer and the farm sold Fair Trade goods and purchased local produce — meats and cheeses as well as fruits and vegetables — to sell.

Ten Eyck’s husband worked on developing the farmers’ market.

"We lost money doing it," she said, explaining the goods were "expensive and perishable."

Ten Eyck read a story in The New York Times about a farmers’ diner in Vermont with all local products and decided to try the same at Indian Ladder’s restaurant, the Yellow Rock Café. Local musicians frequently entertained there.

"It didn’t work out financially," she said.

But, Ten Eyck said, she really liked getting to know the other farmers raising local foods. "You’re really isolated," she said of modern farmers, "because no one is doing what you do....Suddenly, you’re dealing with people fighting the same fight. There’s camaraderie. I’m going to miss that. I feel like I let people down," she said, her voice trailing off.

But, in the end, Ten Eyck said, she has no regrets about her years working at the farm. "It was a really good experience. I learned so much about people," she said. "I used to think I was an excellent judge of character — as a reporter I could sum it up with an eyeful. I learned how wrong that was...People can surprise you...I matured a lot with all that responsibility...

"From my perspective as a writer, a farm is the greatest place because anything can happen...Any customer can walk in the door and say anything...There’s a constantly changing cast of characters."

In fact, Ten Eyck is now working on a novel about small-town life.

Pending legislation keeps bureau open
FSA will stay open until the cows come home"

By Tyler Schuling

NEW SCOTLAND — As the local federal Farm Service Agency is slated to merge with another county office, legislation that is pending in Congress is keeping it from closing its doors.

The Albany County FSA is slated to merge with the office in Schoharie, which serves Schoharie and Schenectady counties. However, the federal Farm Bill has not yet been approved by lawmakers and language in the bill is keeping the office open.

"I think a lot of our producers and farmers are relieved that it was put on hold," said Thomas Della Rocco, the executive director of the FSA’s Albany County and Schoharie offices.

The FSA has 43 county offices in New York State and over 2,300 offices in the continental United States. The office manages farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, and loan programs as dictated by Congress.

Della Rocco said language in the federal budget and versions of the proposed Farm Bill before the Senate and House of Representatives puts a hold on any offices being closed. The version of the Farm Bill before the Senate, he said, contains language that puts any closures on hold, and the version before the House of Representatives, Della Rocco said, places a one-year moratorium on any closures.

"I’m happy about it, obviously. I’m a proponent of it staying open," said Jim Abbruzzese, whose family owns Altamont Orchards; he chairs the Albany County FSA committee, elected to the post by other farmers.

Abbruzzese called the office remaining open "a short-term fix."

"I would love to see the closures stop and would like it to be in the Farm Bill," said Abbruzzese. He differentiated between the federal budget — which only covers one year — from the Farm Bill, which governs agriculture for five years.

"We’re good to go for awhile," said Abbruzzese.


Last year, a committee led by Brymer Humphreys, the state’s executive director of the Farm Service Agency, was charged with increasing efficiencies within the FSA.

The committee’s charge dates back to January of 2006, when Teresa Lasseter, the FSA’s national administrator, met with executive directors of states to determine local needs and concerns of individual states rather than Washington, D.C. dictating what each state must do, Kent Politsch, a spokesman for the FSA, said earlier.

While considering eight offices throughout the state to close or merge with an FSA office nearby, Humphreys’s committee met with each affected community and held public hearings as part of the process. After holding hearings, the committee determined three county offices — including the one in Albany County — would close.

Had the committee’s plan been approved, the offices affected would have had 120 days to close.

At a public hearing in September at the William Rice Jr. Extension Center in New Scotland — the building where the Albany County FSA office is housed — many area farmers and government officials spoke against consolidation. No members in the audience favored a merger of the Schoharie and Albany county sites.

Della Rocco said he believes the public hearings raised public awareness and led to Congressman Michael McNulty and State Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton taking further action and changing wording in the legislation.

Clinton had introduced legislation last summer to block the closure of FSA offices as well as the closures of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and Rural Development offices in the state and throughout the nation.

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